Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Refreshed art space resets its approach



Refreshed art space resets its approach

Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery.
Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery. Athena Zelandonii

Refreshed art space resets its approach

The recently reopened Lotus Gallery, located on Battambang’s Street 2.5 near Phsar Nath Market, doesn’t look much different from the space that owner Darren Swallow temporarily closed six months ago.

The three-storey converted shophouse still has an airy feel and plenty of wall space, but there’s been a shift in concept, he says – one that could be indicative of fracturing support for and from the independent arts community in Battambang, once considered to be Cambodia’s cultural capital.

To start, there’s no plan for regularly rotating exhibitions.

“Before, it was quite difficult to keep up the quality of the work,” he says. “What tends to happen [in Battambang] is you get one or two good pieces and then some filler. And there are only a few artists I know who can fill an exhibition with good-quality work. So for now, I’ll focus on quality over quantity.”

For the first long-term exhibition, which opened last month with the gallery itself, the curator has chosen a couple of pieces by British artist Nicolas Grey and a handful by Swallow’s wife, the painter and sculptor Khchao Touch, who was born in Battambang and trained and later taught at Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Most of her works are incredibly detailed: earlier oil paintings on display feature tiny strokes made with a bamboo tip; her intricate watercolours focus on exploring the natural elements and female forms. Touch is inspired by flowers in particular, and some of her more minimalist works resemble a Khmer take on American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“They stand in the sun all day, and then they die in the ground,” Touch says. “I do my paintings to remind myself to try to find the freedom to be alive. I want my daughter to be free like that.”

For a few years, Touch – once labelled one of Cambodia’s “leading women artists” – has been on something of a hiatus. Much of her work completed over the past year has emerged from the family’s experience with the couple’s daughter, who was receiving medical treatment in Bangkok. Touch is bright-eyed, and asks a lot of questions – many of which end up as titles for her works (Where Are We Going?, for example, a family portrait).

Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms.
Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms. Athena Zelandonii

Before stepping out of Battambang, Swallow was a co-founder of Sammaki Gallery, which closed in March after nearly five years. (He opened Lotus Gallery as a “small, funky arts venue” in 2013.) Sammaki was a bold experiment in an uncertain field: a space that after last year operated with no private funding, and where sometimes inexperienced artists took full creative control of their exhibitions.

“Once I had to leave for Bangkok, nobody tried to find funds or anything. Once the money ran out, they had to close,” Swallow says. “The idea was always that artists would take the initiative, find funding and run it as their own space – it never really happened.”

That’s not to say the community is in decline. Two shining spots include Sangker Gallery, which – unlike Sammaki – is privately funded, and the Romcheik 5 gallery, which displays the works of the eponymous collective whose members live in an artists’ commune outside town and produce a prodigious amount of original work.

But for now, Lotus Gallery will stick to its slow approach, as well as a café downstairs focused on health and vitality. “It’s something different for Battambang anyway,” Swallow says.

Upstairs in the gallery, Touch pulls out a piece she’s been working on for two months. It features a grand flower, tendrils carefully sketched out in every direction.

“When I paint this painting, I don’t know when to finish,” she says, laughing. “It needs a little bit of blue. With blue, there is freedom. I need to find a little bit of freedom in here.”

Lotus Gallery is located at #53 Street 2.5 in Battambang.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Angkor Beer, 30 Years of Prestige and Still Counting

    Let’s celebrate 30 years of prestige with Angkor Beer. In this 2022, Angkor Beer is 30 years old and has been staying with Cambodian hearts in all circumstances. Head of core beer portfolio, EmYuthousaid, “We have been with Cambodians for three decades now. We, ANGKOR Beer, pride

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,